Opinion: The I-80 corridor must have a full-service acute care hospital

The closure of Alta Bates would be devastating. That’s why, on Dec. 11, the Berkeley City Council will vote to demand Sutter Health commit to either retrofitting Alta Bates or sell it to another hospital operator.

With the recent wildfires impacting hundreds of communities and thousands of residents across California, disaster preparedness has become a frequent topic of conversation. As our community members play out the likely scenarios of an earthquake along the Hayward fault-line, or a fire at a nearby oil refinery, they may ask themselves, ‘Do I have an emergency kit ready?’ or ‘Do I know what to do in the case of a fire?’

One question they may not ask, but should, is “Will I have a hospital in my community?”

As mayors of communities along the I-80 corridor, we have spent the past two years asking ourselves this very important question. And the answer, sadly, is no.

Sutter Health announced in 2016 that it will close its Alta Bates campus in Berkeley and consolidate its current inpatient and emergency services approximately three miles away at its Summit campus in Oakland. Citing state law that requires hospitals to be seismically retrofitted by 2030 as the reason for the consolidation, Alta Bates hospital will close within that time frame. Three miles may not seem very far, but that extra travel time has serious implications.

Recognizing the need for action in opposition to the pending closure of Alta Bates, a task force comprised of elected officials and community leaders was established, under the leadership of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. A primary focus of this task force was creating a Health Impact Assessment through UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health to evaluate the impact of this closure on our communities. What we found is this:

  • People in West Contra Costa in need of emergency services will face up to 55 minutes in travel time during afternoon peak hours to get to Summit in Oakland. The Berkeley community, which neighbors Alta Bates, will experience up to an additional 20 minutes in transport time to get medical treatment at the Summit campus.
  • Regional emergency department capacity will be significantly compromised in the event of a disaster.
  • Longer wait/travel times will result in increased morbidity, increased mortality, and delayed critical care.
  • Communities of color, members of the disability community, and low-income communities will be disproportionately impacted.

In short, the closure of Alta Bates Hospital would be devastating to all of our communities. In 2016, there were over 45,000 ER visits to Alta Bates, a 7% increase in visits since 2013. The demand for emergency services is clear. Our communities have already felt the negative ramifications of the closure of Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo in 2015 which left Kaiser Richmond and Alta Bates as the nearest two hospitals for West Contra Costa and North Alameda County residents.

We cannot afford to lose another hospital. That’s why, on Dec. 11, the Berkeley City Council will vote to demand that Sutter Health commit to either retrofitting its Alta Bates campus or selling it to another hospital operator. Every community needs a full service acute care hospital within easy access. Please join with us in ensuring we are prepared not only for the next disaster but are able to care for all of our community members in time of illness or injury.

Jesse Arreguín is the Mayor of Berkeley, John Bauters is the Mayor of Emeryville, Peggy McQuaid is the Mayor of Albany and Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto is the Mayor of El Cerrito.